2 Peter 2: Actual Versus Potential


In answering the questions surrounding free will and predestination, one observation rises to the surface: Regeneration marks the beginning of a new life in a radically, supernaturally, renewed person. It is that act by which the Holy Spirit puts God’s eternal life into a person who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. When the Holy Spirit recreates the human heart, God puts into your heart, and mine, an inclination towards God and a desire for the things of God.

Regeneration is far more than a warm and enthusiastic response, or even good intentions to “turn over a new leaf.” Regeneration marks—at least as it is described by the apostles—a completely new life, a new creation, a kind of irreversible change.

And it seems this irreversible change is a combination resulting from the organic intersection of God’s divine choice and action, and our own receptivity and reciprocal action.

That leaves us with a both/and paradigm, rather than an either/or position.

But where does that bring us in terms of apostasy?


Knowledge Versus Response

The knowledge of God and the word of God without an accompanying genuine response of faith will not hold.

Jesus made that clear with his parable about the four soils. For a farmer, seedlings are not a harvest, they are only a potential harvest. We might call a seedling “wheat,” but it is not properly wheat until its head has matured into golden grain, readying for harvest.

From this point of view, these false teachers knew what was right and holy but they deliberately chose to reject the light and go back to darkness, to keep on doing what was wrong and defiling.

One such example that none of the disciples would ever forget was Judas Iscariot.

The writer of Hebrews also mulled over this phenomenon, stating,

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come . . .

and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. 

Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.

But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be burned over.

Hebrews 6:4-8 (NRSV)

What does it mean to

  • Be enlightened
  • Taste the heavenly gift
  • Share in the Holy Spirit
  • Taste the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come

And still fall away?

To many, this sounds like a believer losing their salvation, and is actually a proof-text for those who subscribe to Pelagius’s and Arminius’s point of view.

To others (myself included) this underscores the organic union of the divine and human vantage points, illustrated by Jesus’s parable of the four soils.

Think about it. Seed—which is to say, God’s word—that falls on shallow, rocky soil, or in weed-filled soil, does show some promise. To push the metaphor a little, it is enlightened by the sun, it tastes the soil, is shares in the moisture of the Spirit, the power of life begins in it.

But it is a false start.

Without roots, the promising start withers to nothing. Without access to nutrients, the promising start gets choked off, the potential never realized.

Actual Versus Potential

The Apostle John observed this taking place among the churches where he taught and shepherded. Others in the church, friends and family with those who were falling away, were distressed, not understanding what was happening. John reassured them,

They went out [from] us—but they were not [of] us, for if they were [of] us, they [would] have stayed with us—but in order that it [be] made visible that all [of] them are not from us. But, you have anointing from the Holy [one] and you all perceive and have knowledge of everything.

Apostle John, 1 John 2:19-20 (my translation)

In other words, the very fact that some were leaving the Christian community was proof they had never truly been of that community. The potential had been there, possibly even the desire and interest. But the commitment, the roots, never grew deep enough to bring the potential to maturity in faith.

We westerners like for there to b clear yes/no, on/off, in/out, binary categories for life situations. Sometimes we are right to want that. Certainly, there are times when we have to be all in.

But some circumstances are not instant. Some require not just initial commitment—which, after all, is a promise more than a lived reality—but also the daily anchoring that comes with that decision to commit.

Build Yourselves Up

I never did give Jude a proper introduction! He identified himself as Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James. Which James? Well, most have said “James the Just,” who led the Acts 15 Council in Jerusalem. That James was also the brother of Jesus, which would have made Jude Jesus’s brother as well.

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215 AD) would later affirm this relationship, adding that Joseph was Jude’s father.

Papyrus 78, containing the Epistle of Jude verses 4, 5, 7 and 8. Dated to the 3rd or 4th century | By Unknown author – http://chrles.multiply.com/photos/album/50/Bible_Papyrus_p78#2#photo=2, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12376842

Jude’s letter follows Peter’s second letter pretty closely, sometimes word-for-word, so it is possible Jude received a copy of Peter’s letter and decided to take portions of it to send to those Jude was teaching and shepherding.

In any case, he offered four ways to cooperate with God in being presented blameless to the Lord.

But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads toeternal life. And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.

Jude 1:20-23 (NRSV)

1. Build yourselves up in your faith by continuing in God’s word, reading scripture, talking about what you learn with others, meditating on it, processing and synthesizing it into your life.

2. Pray in the Holy Spirit, pray according to the Spirit’s will in God’s written word, pray to accomplish God’s work according to God’s promises, in God’s power

3. Keep yourselves in God’s love, by living by God’s word. When you are continually confessing sin (which is to say, processing both what is going on in your own life and inner being -and- what is happening in relationship with others who may be wronging you) and receiving God’s cleansing, God’s love will constantly be able to warm your heart and fill your life. Of course God loves you whether you are walking in the light or not, but if you walk in the light, you will actively experience that love.

4. Keep your attention fixed on Jesus’ mercy, which brings people to eternal life.

  • Engage with those who are struggling with doubt by answering their arguments and reasoning with them.
  • Rescue those who are in trouble by snatching them out of the fire, moving right in to try to bring them back from disaster.
  • Have mercy with great caution not to be contaminated with the very thing they are ensnared by.

These are all the acts of those who are seeking to grow deep roots and golden kernels of mature wheat.


[Seedling | Pxhere, Wheat | Image by PatrickLFC93 from Pixabay ]

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